Closing down Chaos Manor
September 9, 2017 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Jerry Pournelle, 1933-2017. Jerry Pournelle (Wikipedia) has died. He was an influential science fiction writer and editor, technology columnist, blogger, and political activist.

The SFWA site has a memorial page. Some geekish reflections at HackerNews. More from the Verge.
posted by doctornemo (89 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
. for the good.

(I'm sure we'll get around to the rest)
posted by Artw at 7:27 AM on September 9 [11 favorites]


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posted by jim in austin at 7:36 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


For more on his racist political activism, here's the article The Secret Authoritarian History of Science Fiction by David Forbes. Here's an excerpt:
Connections between the larger far-right and science fiction figures had always existed, especially in the defense industry, and those links have ranged from Heinlein's 1950s advocacy to politicians like Newt Gingrich's ties to multiple sci-fi authors, Pournelle, a relentless networker, proved an influential bridge. He had worked with Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty's racist and reactionary 1969 campaign which tried to paint African-American politician and former police officer Tom Bradley as a communist and black radical, edited right-wing mercenary magazine Soldier of Fortune, expressed sympathy for fascism of the Franco and Mussolini varieties and helped pen Reagan's Star Wars appeals.

Along with fellow author, oil heir and self proclaimed libertarian Larry Niven, he wrote a number of blockbusters like Lucifer's Hammer and Oath of Fealty, whose plot lines, with their invectives against urban society and yearning for a social collapse that might herald a return of technocratic feudalism, share much in common with Campbell's "citizen" and "barbarian" rants.

In the same series, Pournelle details his own efforts, during his years in academia, to put in place a system that would use test to determine which students were genetically worthy of education, and fumed when the University of Wisconsin rejected the idea as racist.
If you want to learn more about Pournelle's racist and authoritarian ideas and the milieu in which he operated I highly recommend The Old Iron Dream by David Forbes, it's worth the $5.99 asking price.
posted by Kattullus at 7:37 AM on September 9 [66 favorites]


Discussing Pournelle without discussing his racist and authoritarian activism would be like discussing Vox Day and leaving out his politics. Worse, really, because Pournelle actually helped shape policy.
posted by maxsparber at 7:43 AM on September 9 [25 favorites]


It's possible to think of his later day awfulness as the results of the mythical brain eater, but i guess that would be somewhat inaccurate.
posted by Artw at 7:49 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Along with fellow author, oil heir and self proclaimed libertarian Larry Niven, he wrote a number of blockbusters like Lucifer's Hammer and Oath of Fealty, whose plot lines, with their invectives against urban society and yearning for a social collapse that might herald a return of technocratic feudalism

To be clear, Lucifer's Hammer is the book where The Black Guy, who of course talks mostly in a string of jive-talking black-power slang, ends up either in or running a gang of cannibals with, IIRC, all the other black people except the one that's saved and ennobled by the power of astronautism.

The Mote books were silly and had the usual atrocious biology but were good fun and relatively inoffensive.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:58 AM on September 9 [13 favorites]


I will say one good thing about Jerry Pournelle: He was a tremendous help to the hapless George Alec Effinger through his health problems and burned down house, despite the differences in their politics.

That said, he and his then good buddy Robert Adams tried to pick a fight with me at a science fiction convention in the mid-1980's. I found out later that it was tradition to invite a designated punching bag for them, and that day I was it. Adams threw the first punch after I was goaded into saying something sufficiently inflammatory (as I recall it was about my generally poor opinion of all matters Vietnam) my girlfriend stopped it by stepping between us. Adams showed no sign of withdrawing, but his adoring fans suddenly decided it might be a good idea to restrain him when they realized he was about to hit a girl. At which point...

Me: I think we'll just leave now.
Pournelle, blocking my path: You were about to hit my friend.
Me: No I wasn't.
Pournelle: And why should anyone believe that?
Me: Because he's not worth hitting.
Pournelle: Glares, doesn't move to let me pass.
Me: And neither are you.

At this point the crowd made room and I walked around him.

So I'll just leave this here:
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posted by Bringer Tom at 8:01 AM on September 9 [108 favorites]


Jerry Pournelle and the Personal Computer:
According to Kirschenbaum, Pournelle used the computer to begin writing up his drafts on his new computer. “It is clear even at this early stage that Zeke [his computer’s nickname] had already fulfilled the hope of increased productivity — in [an] article, Pournelle details revising a screenplay in an afternoon, and then composing and writing a 15,000 word story in three days. He estimated that it was saving him whole ‘months’ of typing and retyping, and it let him produce prose at ‘double’ the usual rate.” Kirschenbaum notes that this story was likely “Spirals”, which Pournelle co-authored with Larry Niven, and that it very well might have been the first work of fiction written entirely on a word processor. This is speculative: it’s hard to know exactly if this is the case, although the consensus seems to point to Pournelle as an early — if not the earliest — author to do so.

posted by bonehead at 8:03 AM on September 9 [5 favorites]


The Mote books were silly and had the usual atrocious biology but were good fun and relatively inoffensive.

They give everyone relatively spot on tablet computers too, which is not bad for the 70s when most SF was split between Asimovian robots and big walls of reel to reel tape style 60s computers, so there's that.
posted by Artw at 8:03 AM on September 9 [4 favorites]


...and they even mostly use them right -- people aren't "allowed to" forget things except for that momentary lapse before you look it up on your phone.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:14 AM on September 9 [4 favorites]


I have complicated feelings about Jerry Pournelle. Some of his science fiction novels, with and without Niven, are among my all-time favorites. And his computing columns were entertaining and inspiring to me at a young age. He made me think, and at times wrote eloquently of the virtues of activism without reference to party.

But... his politics have always been racist, authoritarian, and horrible. His political writing may have grown more transparent as he aged, but it was always there. If he was eloquent, effective, and intelligent, it was in the service of a horrible cause. Pournelle was actually the first author who made me think seriously about whether I could still enjoy the writing of someone whose politics I hated.

On balance I'm sad to see him go, and I'll still re-read and enjoy some of his work. But I'll always do so with a little bit of hesitation and doubt.
posted by fencerjimmy at 8:18 AM on September 9 [27 favorites]


. for the author of Janissaries and King David's Spaceship and the co-author of The Mote in God's Eye, Inferno and Footfall.

As for the rest, well...

I was completely enthralled by the work of Larry Niven in my teens and early twenties, just for the sheer scope of it all. Once I ran out of Niven, I started reading his work with Pournelle; some of it I loved and some was kind of meh for young me. (I'm afraid to go back to his work now because I'll probably notice things that would ruin it for me. But at that age, it was awesome.)

In some ways, Pournelle made me more progressive. I used to be a lot more politically conservative, and a large part of that was due to the way authors like Pournelle (and Heinlein, and others) made conservative positions seem so obviously rational. So when conservatives ignored evidence or moved away from fact-based policy, they'd lose me on the issue and when I'd read something fact- or science-based that argued against a conservative position, I'd take it seriously. Eventually, conservativism as a whole kind of left me behind.

So, uh, thanks?

Of course, as soon as he started writing about Linux (a subject I know well), he revealed himself to be an idiot and I disregarded everything he did from then on. I've mostly ignored him since, and that's probably why I remember him as fondly as I do.
posted by suetanvil at 8:44 AM on September 9 [19 favorites]


Of course, as soon as he started writing about Linux (a subject I know well), he revealed himself to be an idiot

It was clear even before that. Back in the days of DOS, I wrote about the inevitability of multitasking and the need for process security and he printed parts of my comments in his BYTE column followed by his opinion of how ill-informed and how stupid I was.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:08 AM on September 9 [28 favorites]


I remember him much more for his columns in Byte Magazine than for his SF, even though I always thought of him as an SF writer. As a consequence I can only picture him as a forty, sixty, eighty year old man still grinding away at a 25 pound Compaq portable with a 9 inch display, two floppy drives, and a 40 MB hard drive the size of a toaster. I mostly found his stories dull and uninteresting, because he makes the same confusion many hard SF fans do: The temptation of scientism threatens to make their rigorously scientifically accurate setting just as fantastical as those by the authors they deride. Making science (actually engineering, usually) the goal (or at least the framework) of the stories, there's a measure of swapping one form of wish-fulfillment for another that happens to bear a veil of plausibility, in which a fact or set of facts is true contingent on an increasingly tenuous chain of assumptions (eg, people can be put into storage for hundreds of years and successfully and wholly be restored in centuries-old fully-operational space ships). Whether writing about fairies or solar space ships, there's always some point at which the author have to make up how things work by imagination rather than scholarship, and the distinction is that the fantasy novelist doesn't have to make excuses for or retcon the chain of events that led to the fairies.

I can appreciate as a literary constraint restricting oneself to writing imaginary fiction set in a universe that operates only by the principles we currently know, but I think the championing of this form as the only one and true science fiction did a lot to hold back the genre, and put hard SF mostly in the hands of people who found it most appealing to hew to ideological absolutism. Fortunately by the time I was a reader and a fan, the seventies had passed and the local library was full of PKD, Lem, British New Wave, American New Wave, and so on; Omni Magazine was at its peak publishing many of the authors later tagged as Cyberpunk, so I didn't have to read engineering-manuals-as-prosody if I didn't have to.

So anyway. Pournell. Shame about his passing.
posted by ardgedee at 9:09 AM on September 9 [8 favorites]


I read some his novels co-written with Niven when I was a teenager... I remember them being fun at the time I later read some critical analysis of Footfall and it kinda changed my mind.

I borrowed Space Angels from the library and got a few chapters in before giving up and never read him again. The book's heros are cliched sf fans for the worst kind fighting against a Green pro-environmentalist leftie government that also anti-technology/full on New Age. It didn't really sit well beside my reading of Iain Banks at the time.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:17 AM on September 9 [6 favorites]


It was clear even before that. Back in the days of DOS, I wrote about the inevitability of multitasking and the need for process security and he printed parts of my comments in his BYTE column followed by his opinion of how ill-informed and how stupid I was.

I remember those days and I remember thinking that it was probably because it was pretty damn difficult to setup multitasking. First you have to get a memory manager working like QEMM working on your system. Then you had to get Desqview working. And your versions of QEMM and Desqview better be in sync or else. Then you had to find out which applications would actually stay in their lane.

So you had a choice. Spend several days troubleshooting to get limited multitasking working and deal with constant snafus or be a curmudgeon and deny it even needs to be done.

Amusingly in 2017 we see people installing apps to make their computers uni-taskers!

People are a mess.
posted by srboisvert at 9:30 AM on September 9 [4 favorites]


Kirschenbaum notes that this story was likely “Spirals”, which Pournelle co-authored with Larry Niven, and that it very well might have been the first work of fiction written entirely on a word processor. This is speculative: it’s hard to know exactly if this is the case, although the consensus seems to point to Pournelle as an early — if not the earliest — author to do so.

Len Deighton wrote Bomber on a word processor in the late 60s before Pournelle was even published, although he did have the help of a secretary.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:33 AM on September 9 [6 favorites]


All I know is his science fiction from the 70's-80's (the best of it co-written with Niven), and a non-fiction book called "A Step Farther Out" that I still love today. (It's about space exploration and various futurist ideas like generating power from thermoclines in the ocean.) So for those things:

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posted by Kevin Street at 9:37 AM on September 9 [3 favorites]


Not all deaths diminish us.
posted by tommasz at 9:45 AM on September 9 [10 favorites]


Like others, I encountered his writing via Niven - I loved Niven's stuff a lot in high school and college. I did not realize his political bent at that time, but...yeeech.

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posted by mosk at 9:49 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


I met him years ago at a small conference set up at the Borland headquarters in Scotts Valley, CA. Borland published Turbo Pascal, which was the first low cost compiler for microcomputers. It cost $49.95 when other compilers cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Pournelle was an early proponent of Turbo Pascal in his Byte column so was invited as a guest speaker. The CEO, Phillipe Kahn, had sent his staff out to all the bookstores between San Francisco and San Jose to buy up every copy of Pournelle's latest book so that he could sign them for attendees. Pournelle was a little peeved that all the bookstores were left without any copies just when he was trying to get some new release momentum going.

Later, a few of us went up to Phillipe Kahn's beautiful house high in the mountains between San Jose and Santa Cruz. Pournelle was a little hard of hearing because he had been an artillery man in the Korean War before the days of ear protection, so you had to speak up when addressing him. I spent part of the evening on Kahn's outdoor deck on a clear, starry night pointing out to Pournelle various prominent stars, constellations and planets that he didn't recognize. I thought it rather strange that an author of space operas had never spent much time actually looking at the stars.
posted by JackFlash at 9:57 AM on September 9 [24 favorites]


Maybe I came in at the wrong time but I feel like his computer columns seemed to consist mostly of him complaining about the logistics of dealing with and trying to use all the free stuff various companies were sending him made even more unreadable by giving everything a pet name that you were supposed to somehow already know.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:31 AM on September 9 [11 favorites]


Back when BYTE was a great magazine (which inspired me to become a computer scientist), Chaos Manor was just as much a part of it as the articles by Steve Ciarcia or Dick Pountain. Even so, I recall that sometimes Jerry would be slightly bemused when he contacted companies and the representatives did not know Who He Was. Still, there was good stuff there as well. Of his SF works, I mainly recall Footfall for having a story arc while indulgent still ended right at the top.
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posted by bouvin at 10:32 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


I've enjoyed much of Pournelle's (with and without Niven's) fiction. But even as a kid I felt the hinkiness in his politics, so I guess I benefited from it as a vaccine/inoculation.

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posted by porpoise at 10:47 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]


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posted by MikeWarot at 11:02 AM on September 9


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posted by Splunge at 11:04 AM on September 9


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posted by Lynsey at 11:44 AM on September 9


Pournelle was one of those authors who helped turn me off to science fiction for good by, among other things, pretty much making it clear to me, a smart seventh-grade girl opposed to the militarization of space, that this genre wasn't for me. (Don't even get me started on Heinlein.)

So long, dude, and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.
posted by tully_monster at 12:29 PM on September 9 [35 favorites]


Not entirely against that sentiment.
posted by Artw at 12:55 PM on September 9 [4 favorites]


The only work of Pournelle (and Niven's) I've ever read was FOOTFALL, which was a straight -up rebuttal to everyone who opposed Reagan's Star Wars defense plan (I mean, it's not subtle. He outright states it). It culminates with a scene where in analogs of all of his favorite sci-fi authors, recruited by the military, eventually help save the world. The book ends so abruptly after the climax that I repeatedly had to go back and check if pages had been torn out. It's the closest thing I've ever read to an author masturbating in novel-form.

It also features title-ception: A chapter titled "Footfall" in part II "Footfall" in the novel FOOTFALL.
posted by UltraMorgnus at 1:35 PM on September 9 [15 favorites]


I remember going back over his old columns in Byte circa '87, when I'd just moved back to America, and all the libraries were full of five and ten year old computer books from before the first PC crash and all my allowance would buy me were CP/M computers and TI 99/4a s, and then finally first gen PC "compatibles". So for me, it was all still utterly relevant, and even today I still kinda want to eBay a big CompuPro S100 rig.

Then came Linux, and my world changed as irrevocably as death.
posted by wotsac at 1:38 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


I had a first edition of The Burning City signed by Mr. Pournelle and Mr. Niven on Monday. I saw this today and .. yeah sorry, I'm in tears. Yes, I didn't agree with his politics, and yeah, he wasn't the best person. But his works meant a lot to me growing up, and still do, even as an adult. That I got to see him in person, shake his hand, and have my book signed, that he was respectful of me and my husband, and that he was willing to do that for me? It meant a lot.

I know most people in this thread will not agree with me, but I took a lot away from his works in terms of shaping my own view of the future. And maybe what I took from them wasn't what he wanted me to take, and yeah, he was quite hinky politically. But I took from them that yes, militarization of space was going to happen, and yes, it was a very bad idea, and yes, social systems are full of problems that repeat in historical cycles unless the roots of the problems are faced, and yes, we have to be aware of how our own biases are going to shape how we view other humans. Maybe I saw criticism of the systems in his work that he meant to be praise of them. I don't know.

But I do know I saw an old, very tired, yet still full of stories and life, man last Monday. And that's how I'll remember him.

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posted by strixus at 1:38 PM on September 9 [25 favorites]


Mote is the one I'd recommend, although I couldn't guarantee it hasn't been visited by the suck fairy I don't recall anything too awful in it and it has some nice concepts.
posted by Artw at 1:39 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


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posted by twidget at 1:39 PM on September 9


. I read a lot of hard sci-fi as a teenager, especially Niven solo, Niven/Pournelle and Heinlein. I wasn't ever very conservative but was a lot more open to giving rightish political viewpoints the benefit of the doubt than I am now.

I did enjoy his Byte column although it usually was more "grumpy old man fights with technology" than anything else.
posted by octothorpe at 1:51 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


strixus, I am glad you had a pleasant encounter with Jerry so recently. He was eloquent and interesting in person; before the punch encounter I related above he spent over an hour arguing with me about his beloved Star Wars system, a period during which I was apparently the only person in the room who didn't realize what was being set up. I just thought it was a fun and enthusiastic little mini-debate. Six or seven people in the room knew otherwise and, I later learned, were frantically trying to figure out how to keep it from going south. I had made my pacifism clear, and it was obvious that neither Jerry nor Robert had a plan that would work out if they attacked me and I didn't throw a punch in return that they could claim came first. In particular, had Adams hit my girlfriend who was wearing glasses in the face, at that time in Louisiana that was almost automatically attempted murder. They were both erudite and well-educated but in their hearts brutal men. And Jerry's brutality came out at times in his fiction; he set up his own future history so that the bombing of an entire civilized Earthlike world back to the stone age was portrayed as a necessary and inevitable step toward advancing the larger galactic civilization. As UltraMorgnus relates above w/r/t Footfall, the passages he wrote about that are almost masturbatory in their enthusiasm.
posted by Bringer Tom at 1:53 PM on September 9 [22 favorites]


It's the closest thing I've ever read to an author masturbating in novel-form.

You never read Heinlein's Number of the Beast then.
posted by octothorpe at 1:57 PM on September 9 [32 favorites]


Oh for the pleasant days of Lovecraft, Bloch et al murdering off each other's fictional selves with Cthulhus.
posted by Artw at 1:58 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


. because I fell in love with his Byte column as a teen in the 80s, enjoying both the practical nature of it and all the kvetching. It was a dependably fun to read. (Years later, when I wrote a tech column for [REDACTED], I always hoped my readers would enjoy my stuff the way I once enjoyed Pournelle.) As the years went on, though, the kvetching really took over, and often was the result of boneheadery on his part.

For a great many years he self-published his own website with FrontPage; it was ugly as all hell and structured like the messiest desk you ever saw, but I kept coming back to read about the new gear he was tinkering with. Then after 9/11 I saw a lot less writing about tech there, and a lot more about the military and war and an endless need for both. I tuned out.
posted by /\/\/\/ at 2:54 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


It's difficult to credit so many people talking about the Moties books as harmless fun. Not only are they sexist as fuck, they're also a transparent setup for genocidal imperialism.

Jennifer Pournelle, who's already ten times the writer her old man was in his best days, wrote a "reboot", sort-of, of the Motie universe. It's called Outies.
posted by adrienneleigh at 2:58 PM on September 9 [12 favorites]


Well, like I say, suck fairy visit highly likely. Also any time there's aliens there's going to be war with a zero sum game result and the humans are unambiguously the goodies in that, yeah.
posted by Artw at 3:01 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


And Niven? Niven is even worse, dudes. Remember that time he actively advocated for terrorizing immigrants by spreading rumors about organlegging?

They're both racist, misogynist fascists. They have been for basically ever.
posted by adrienneleigh at 3:02 PM on September 9 [20 favorites]


.

Also, he claimed in a secret forum that I didn't receive a DMCA takedown notice that was wrongly sent on behalf of the SFWA when I most certainly did and even had the name of the person claiming to represent the org who did it. That puts him into the "cranky codger" category of sci-fi writer to me.
posted by TrishaLynn at 3:29 PM on September 9 [8 favorites]


Tough crowd. As a (non-fandom) long term SF reader I was not a fan of his but there were spaceships far away having a rollicking adventure, big big ideas, sun smashing sized, fun reads, yet like most thrillers or murder mysteries not really worth bothering to enter at any serious depth at any philosophical level. He also solve a lot of folks PC problems helping to advance computing for the people. Taught folks to back up their data!!! I think I heard him talk on nerdy topics once and seemed levelheaded about tech.

I frequently bike past one of the dens of fandom and sometimes tempted to delve into the life, but more find myself far less interested in the physical author at any level. Anyway

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posted by sammyo at 3:35 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


"Tough crowd" my ass. Dude, i am a hardcore SFF fan. I've been going to cons since i was seven years old. I unashamedly love speculative fiction, and it has transformed my life on every level since i was a tiny child. That doesn't mean the people who write it are exemplary or off-limits, nor does it mean that everyone's work holds up to scrutiny.
posted by adrienneleigh at 3:37 PM on September 9 [43 favorites]


It's difficult to credit so many people talking about the Moties books as harmless fun. Not only are they sexist as fuck, they're also a transparent setup for genocidal imperialism.

Yeah, that's a fair cop, especially if you read the moties as sanitized Perilous Yellow Horde. I amend my earlier statement to: there are aspects of the Moties books that I (probably) still enjoy, much as one might still enjoy aspects of Foundation or various Heinlein juvies in spite of the Obvious Problems.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:46 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


Guys like this are why, when I veered away from comics and into Grown-up Books as an adolescent, I went more for horror and noir than sci-fi and fantasy. I hate all this crap. White republican military fetishists who watch the History Channel and want to build a wall. Who needs them.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:32 PM on September 9 [4 favorites]


Over on Facebook, Pournelle's contemporary yet opposed-in-every-way author David Gerrold is sharing a few rememberances that are surprisingly human and kind to Pournelle, who did indeed have many faults. They are worth a read.

(These threads make me sad-- I can't get past my upbringing which taught us not to speak ill of the dead so shortly after they passed. It also hurts to see my metafilter friends who are so interesting and compassionate in other discussions gleefully announce how much they hated a person and would gladly piss on their newly dug graves. Look, it is fine to be that way-- you be you, and I'll be me. I am not even criticizing any of you-- your reactions are your own, and they are as authentic as mine. I guess I should just stop reading obituary threads on metafilter.)
posted by seasparrow at 4:41 PM on September 9 [17 favorites]


yeah, from the hagiographies elsewhere you wouldn't guess that he spent the last decade or so being proto-Gamergate and trolling the the SFWA like crazy. Which... I dunno, there's something to be said for speaking well of the dead and in the case of SF writers in particular not overly focusing on their weird crotchety final years, on the other hand go to far with that and it starts to feel like denial.
posted by Artw at 4:56 PM on September 9 [18 favorites]


The File770 thread, for instance, is nothing but nice about him, and these are people who absolutely know where the bodies are buried.
posted by Artw at 5:01 PM on September 9 [4 favorites]


From David Gerrold...
Which is why he often said, "Money will get you through times of no Hugos better than Hugos will get you through times of no money."
I could not say for sure but I always had the impression that Pournelle's generosity toward Effinger was motivated as much by an urge to prove his own superiority as it was by anything resembling altruism. In any case Pournelle seems to have been a very tribal person, and if you were a member of his tribe -- whether science fiction writers or nuclear weapons engineers, both of which he self-credited membership with -- he would be like a brother. But be just the same but not a member of the tribe, and he was all venom and razors and punching you for entertainment. Like a lot of people, really, but Jerry thought he was so much better than those people without ever quite understanding that no, he was just the same.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:03 PM on September 9 [4 favorites]


I met Jerry a number of times. He was a gentleman towards me, but I had the checkbook for the convention, which earns a young lady some level of respect she might not otherwise receive from gentlemen of a certain era. He did still pat me on the butt almost as reflexive action, and only his advanced age, and the fact that it was the 80s stopped me from making a big deal about it. Some people you just had to know their oddities and proclivities and work around. Example, Marty Nodell would love you forever if you could find a Jewish deli that would bring food for him and his wife, Jack Kirby would settle in for hours of storytelling if you kept his drink refreshed and Neil Gaiman really is that sexy in person.

The old guys were a different generation, one which we have virtually no chance of really grokking. Some of them were fantastic humans, visionaries of light, and some of them were dystopians, convinced the best way forward was through conquering all the things.

He was true to himself. He was a curmudgeon, a racist, and an unapologetic authoritarian with a uniform fetish. But he brought stories into the world. He created characters that will live on, and continue to cause discussion. He changed the world with his words.

I hope his next reincarnation brings him peace.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 5:09 PM on September 9 [38 favorites]


Amen, seasparrow.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:20 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


I imagine there are a lot of people whose opinions are colored by the fact that conservative and libertarian speculative fiction has collectively gone completely batshit insane in the last several years. I'm sure that many fans and authors are wondering whether Pournelle was the last of the breed before this happened, or their progenitor and a sign of things to come. When the last several years have been defined by so many right-leaning members of the community deciding that cheerfully burning down the entire SFF world is more important than previously-unheard voices having their rightful chances at recognition and success, people are going to take that to heart. Remember, at best almost an entire political section of the community has become nasty, bigoted authoritarians willing to side with actual terrorists to get their way. At their worst they are starting to become the terrorists themselves, up to and including threatening violence against fans and authors, especially those who come from marginalized groups.

All of that is to say that Pournelle's outspoken political leanings have become suspect in a lot of people's minds, and I don't blame them at all. That it made its way into his writing only makes things more complicated, and I think we're long past the time where separating outspoken author's politics and/or personality from their work is possible (let alone preferable) when it has become so much of how they present themselves to everyone else. I think only time will tell how Pournelle will be remembered in the community, and only then after the current convulsions within both the industry and fandom have ended.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:38 PM on September 9 [24 favorites]


Seemed pretty nice when I met him at a friend's party. Of course, I was introduced as "This is my friend, [Sam]. He's a dwarf." (Said friend and I used to play D&D). We chatted for a while (as I was a fan of both his books and Chaos Manor) and I didn't fanboy at all.

So I, for one, will give an unqualified

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posted by Samizdata at 5:46 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


.

MeFi's own jscalzi has a nice appreciation.
posted by Gelatin at 5:52 PM on September 9 [5 favorites]


(Tee hee. All this talk about multitasking and Turbo Pascal reminds me of when I used to run a nighttime only local BBS using DesqView and WWIV (running under Turbo Pascal 3.x on a plain old XT.)
posted by Samizdata at 5:52 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


MeFi's own jscalzi has a nice appreciation.

That's because John seems genuinely one seriously nice as hell guy who makes me pleased to recommend his books and happy as hell to admit I semi-sorta-kinda-somewhat know him.
posted by Samizdata at 5:54 PM on September 9 [4 favorites]


Over on Facebook, Pournelle's contemporary yet opposed-in-every-way author David Gerrold is sharing a few rememberances that are surprisingly human and kind to Pournelle, who did indeed have many faults. They are worth a read.

To both his credit and many people's puzzlement, Gerrold has an almost superhuman patience for horrible people that attack him. When Lou Antonelli "joked" about faking a terrorist threat from Gerrold to a con they were both attending and siccing the cops on him, he didn't even ask that Antonelli be banned (a mistake IMO, but not my call). More recently, some of the bigger names amongst the bullies and crazies publicly took great delight in his health and related financial troubles, and he's managed to keep his cool. Being a gay man when these same people repeatedly show off their homophobia (amongst other bigotry) must be incredibly wearing on the guy, but kudos for him still remaining an outspoken voice of his own.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:45 PM on September 9 [16 favorites]


[If you guys want a meta conversation about obit threads, we can do that in metatalk.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:51 PM on September 9


.

.
posted by mikelieman at 8:28 PM on September 9


Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace.

I found Jerry via his Byte column while I still a teenager. Joined BIX based on his talking about it in the magazine. I didn't read any of his fiction until I was an adult. Even so I became a big fan and was a Chaos Manor subscriber for many years. I wrote trip reports to him. I even went through my copy of the omnibus edition of his Falkenburg's Legion books with a highlighter finding all the OCR errors, typed them up, and sent that to him on my own time.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out all the things y'all have already covered about him and why maybe I shouldn't have been such a big fan. After he lost his damned mind in 2008 over Obama's candidacy, I gave up reading his blog for good and joined MetaFilter instead. Even so, though I haven't used it in years, there's a bookmark folder in my toolbar called "Chaos Manor" that I've imported from system to system since I started using the web decades ago.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:29 PM on September 9 [5 favorites]


After he lost his damned mind in 2008 over Obama's candidacy, I gave up reading his blog for good and joined MetaFilter instead. Even so, though I haven't used it in years, there's a bookmark folder in my toolbar called "Chaos Manor" that I've imported from system to system since I started using the web decades ago.

Same here. Even down to "not removing the links"


$ ls -l...
-rwxrwxrwx. 1 mike mike 1964 Oct 6 2009 /storage/www/orion.lieman.net/html/mike/index.html

News
General Interest
Slashdot
News for nerds, stuff that matters
Yahoo! News
Most Emailed
Metafilter
Community Weblog
memepool
MemePool, Get it?
Radio Free Nation
If You have a Story, we have a Soap Box
Jerry Pournelle's Current View

Jerry Pournelle's Current Mail


posted by mikelieman at 8:40 PM on September 9 [3 favorites]


I didn't know anything about his politics. I just really enjoyed the books I read which were mostly the collaborations with Niven (whose personal beliefs I also don't know anything about). The Legacy of Heorot and its sequel Beowulf's Children are excellent and I always enjoy The Mote in God's Eye.

Another one down. RIP.
posted by h00py at 4:40 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


.
posted by Mitheral at 4:55 AM on September 10


I imagine there are a lot of people whose opinions are colored by the fact that conservative and libertarian speculative fiction has collectively gone completely batshit insane in the last several years.

It's always been like this. You guys just never understood it before.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:16 AM on September 10 [18 favorites]


.
posted by Gadgetenvy at 8:58 AM on September 10


I only read a few of his computer columns but one of them lead me to these and, for that alone, he gets:

.

I didn't know about his nasty politics.
posted by bz at 9:15 AM on September 10


I came to him (and Niven) via their novels, and read his Byte column for years, but haven't read his books or his online writing for over a decade now. I never thought about or explored his politics much, and when I was reading his fiction wasn't really all that politically aware. So, though I had hints about his beliefs, nothing concrete stood out to me until much later in my life.

Lucifer's Hammer pretty much got me started on my love for disaster fiction

I've been thinking about rereading Footfall lately, if only to refresh myself about their use of the Michael, the Project Orion-type atom bomb-powered spaceship (I have one in my work in progress, though not as... hmm... weaponized as theirs).

I loved his early Byte columns. It was so much fun watching him have fun (and frustration) with his machinery.

So, for some things I'll miss him, for other things I won't.

.
posted by lhauser at 10:52 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Has it really only been three and a half years since the Truesdale Memo that Pournele signed onto? That short a time since the older guard backed a former editor's insistence that they should be allowed to say whatever sexist crap they wanted in the SFWA bulletin, and sparked the culture war that resulted in the Sad and Rabid Puppies.

On the other hand, Pournelle opposed the Iraq wars, hinking the money would have been better spent on developing energy independence. So hey, points for him.
posted by happyroach at 12:40 PM on September 10 [7 favorites]


Jerry Pournelle, 1933-2017. Jerry Pournelle (Wikipedia) has died.

ok
posted by duffell at 1:19 PM on September 10


On the other hand, Pournelle opposed the Iraq wars, hinking the money would have been better spent on developing energy independence. So hey, points for him.

I agree with this. Even after the SF con encounter I always considered him an intelligent, if brutal, person. If a person like that thinks your war is a bad idea, your war is almost certainly a really bad idea.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:38 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


Ha. Dr. Dr. Jerry gone. I don't mind.
posted by MovableBookLady at 7:55 PM on September 10


[A couple deleted. There's a Metatalk thread for the "is it okay/not okay to criticize the subject of an obit post" discussion.]
posted by taz at 11:53 PM on September 10


In Chicago, back in the turn of the 19th to 20th century, there existed infamous brothels that would sucker horny gentlemen in, slip them a micky (purportedly invented here) or just hit them over the head, detach them from any valuables and their shoes, drop them into a chute, designed into the building for this exact purpose, which would deposit them into an alley 2 or 3 floors below, where at some convenient time paddy wagons would pick them up and deliver them to either the hoosegow or the morgue. As an adolescent fan of right-wing sf I kind of empathize.

I loved the Byte Chaos Manor columns, pretty much detest everything else the guy did.
posted by Chitownfats at 1:10 AM on September 11


Thank you metafilter, this is the only place I've found that has displayed anything more critical than the token grudging acknowledgement that maybe his writings about monstrous black cannibals haven't aged particularly well.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 4:44 AM on September 11 [10 favorites]


.

As someone whose buried quite a few problematic old people in the last few years, I'm okay with having conflicting thoughts.

Old Sci-Fi writer obit threads on metafilter remind me how many of us first generation(?) internetizens are cut from very similar cloths.
posted by DigDoug at 5:23 AM on September 11 [9 favorites]


As someone whose buried quite a few problematic old people in the last few years

That's an effective way to handle them!
posted by thelonius at 6:00 AM on September 11 [9 favorites]


.
posted by dbiedny at 7:52 AM on September 11


It's always been like this. You guys just never understood it before.

But there are reasons for that. Elements of tech/SF culture have permeated broader culture and those interactions complicate all legacies. Which isn't to say that the hyper-reactionary strain in Pournelle's writing was more acceptable when it existed in a smaller box, but it was more manageable, albeit at the cost of a considerably narrower milieu. (The comparison to the structural biases of the early internet is spot on.)

So I agree with zombieflanders: it's more common for fiction writers whose work is suffused with incendiary politics to either outlive the era in which their writing had a direct political correspondence or not live to see it become significant than to pass away when some of the fires they stoked have become conflagrations. ("May you die at a point of irrelevance" is a weird way to put it, but it tends to uncomplicate an author's obituary.)
posted by holgate at 8:32 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


.

I read Pournelle and Niven and Heinlein before my political awakening. I have no desire to go back, but my juvenile self was greatly influenced by these people.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 10:46 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I believe this hasn't been linked to, but ctein's brief post on Scalzi's Whatever helps explain at least some of the contradictions in his personality:

I knew Jerry for 45 years. The first 10 years I considered him a good friend, and vice versa. This in an era when he was a rabid Vietnam hawk and I was a draft Resistor, he was sexist male pig and I was a burgeoning young feminist — our politics were NEVER remotely aligned. We both knew each other’s politics and activities, and we argued like crazy about it. But they were real arguments, real discussions. He never failed to listen to a conflicting viewpoint, and when he didn’t have a counterargument or superior line of reasoning, he gave you the point. We argued, enjoyably… We never got in a fight. He was a tolerant fanatic, if that’s not an oxymoron.

Doesn’t sound like the Jerry most of you knew, does it? Because, and then…

And then there was the 10 years when alcoholism took over his life and he was a stone drunk. I won’t mince words. He was no maintenance alcoholic, this was a drunk.

... And, dammit, I missed my old friend.

Who died back in the early 80s. A victim of alcoholism.

posted by steady-state strawberry at 4:44 PM on September 11 [7 favorites]


Sorry but I drink way the fuck too much myself and it would never occur to me to set it up so I could clobber the fuck out of someone I disagree with who weighs 60 pounds less than I do in front of a fan club who would cheer me on. You can't put all that on the alcohol. Alcohol can make it easier, but you have to want to do it to make it happen. And it would never occur to me to even think of doing what Jerry arranged to do to me.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:57 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


Thank you metafilter, this is the only place I've found that has displayed anything more critical than the token grudging acknowledgement that maybe his writings about monstrous black cannibals haven't aged particularly well.

Kind of annoyed at the sheer level of pissyness some places are employing at the meerest hunt that his less admirable aspects should not be ignored.
posted by Artw at 8:10 PM on September 11 [10 favorites]


-rwxrwxrwx. 1 mike mike 1964 Oct 6 2009 /storage/www/orion.lieman.net/html/mike/index.html
posted by mikelieman at 11:40 PM on September 9 [3 favorites +] [!]

*blinks*

Your username isn't pronounced "mike-lee-man". As though you are a superhero in the manner of Mikes. A Mike-ly Man.

Your name is just Mike Lieman, that's all.

I think there is an unlimited number of Metafilter usernames that I have completely the wrong idea about.
posted by Kwine at 11:40 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I think there is an unlimited number of Metafilter usernames that I have completely the wrong idea about.

Me too. There was a meta-talk about it...
posted by mikelieman at 12:31 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


Long story short, after BBS's my first "Online" account was with Delphi. The let me roll with "mikelieman", so when MCI/Rupert Murdoch got involved, and they screwed it up, I called my local ISP ( Albany.net ) and asked the guy if they could do mikelieman as a user id. He created msl, and an alias to mikelieman in qmail, and the rest is history.
posted by mikelieman at 12:33 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


I had no idea about Pournelle's politics, but I feel vindicated for hating The Mote In God's Eye when I read it in college, despite being assured that it was a stone cold classic. I was an anthropology student who had recently taken evolution classes, and the book's supposed science was so incredibly off-base that I just couldn't buy into the underlying premise.

Now that I know, it makes way more sense to me - it was never based on actual evolution, but on a racist fantasy of evolution which demands that one species oppress or exterminate another because of a sadly unavoidable fact of the oppressed species' biology. It can join Foundation and Ender's Game on my list of "sci-for classics which are veiled apologia for imperialism and genocide."
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:33 AM on September 15 [7 favorites]


Didn't agree with the politics or their expressions, but forever envious of him for coming up with the names Thuktun Flishithy and Chowpeentulk.

.
posted by Fibognocchi at 10:58 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]


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